Give me a Million Bucks, Please!
I am a busy person. I feel busy sometimes. But I am busy. But most of the strain of my busyness comes from two quite different sources. I busy myself trying to be busy while trying to have a normal life with family, church, and television watching. My solutions work most of the time: I take short trips even when I am going half way across the world; I intensify my presence when I am present; I watch Hulu. The other source of anxiety in my busyness is this: I need money to run the projects I run, and it frustrates me because I know the programs are very good, I know that they make a huge difference, I know that what I need is not a huge amount of money, and I know that there is money out there, but it does not go to these projects. I know, also, that were I better at schmoozing at cocktail parties, hiding out in the bushes of rich old people whose deaths seem eminent; or at convincing people that poetry is good for them, for their children and their children's children, I might have the money. Maybe, but I don't think so. I spend a good deal of time trying to work out how to budget what I do manage to pull together, and I think that there has to be a way to get money to do what needs to be done properly.
Here is how far we have gotten. I need a building. It could cost about a million to have this building. It will be a building with a large reading room, a library, several workshop spaces, an outdoor reading space, several small offices, excellent lighting and wall space for art, and lots of windows with natural light. It has a name: it is the Palmetto Poets' Place. Every single program we have up and running now, programs that require us to borrow space, rent space, share space to have our events, will be hosted in this place. Poets from around the state will come here to read, to borrow books to find out about contests, to use the computer to write their poems and to be at home in a lace that is full of light. The building will have a director and a staff member, but it will be the home of a small poetry press called Stepping Stone Press. The press already exists, it just does not have a home. The library exists, too, except that the books are not in a library, and no one can borrow the books now because they have nowhere to go to borrow them.
From this headquarters, armies of poets who go into schools all around the state to teach students how to write poems and how to read poems, and who give them a taste of the excitement of poetry will have some home to find refuge after a long day in the trenches. Right now, they never get to regroup, they simply go back to their hovels wherever they are.
In this place, children will gather in multitudes to take part in summer camps, writers workshops, and readings by children's writers all the time. Children will talk about that poet's place, and how cool it is. They will come from all around the state to visit this place and they will leave as very happy campers. But right now, they can't. There is no place. It is in my head. But remember, we are doing all these things, but we have no home.
This place would be the healing refuge for shell-shocked teachers who need a support group for poetry challenged teachers. And they will come to this place and learn about how to make poetry something beautiful and delightful for their children as Wanda Colman reminds us. Right now, we like doing house calls to visit the patients at their jobs, but it would be nice to have our own clinic where we can ensure the best hygiene.
All those readings, all those dance and poetry events, and music and poetry events, and art and poetry events, all of them would have a home. From here we would be able to launch our guerrilla attacks on workplaces where we put poets on the job in pizza joints, on military bases, in churches, in museums, in libraries, in shoes shops--anywhere. There shouldbe a place where this kind of thing can have a base, a home.
Women can gather to do workshops together, so discover their shared language in the security of this space. Men can find voice alone in this space, making poems and feeling right about it. The broken, the worried, the fearful, the doctors, the social workers, the therapists, and on and on--they could find some space to meet around poems.
In the garden, tea parties where rengas are rendered and tea drunk will happen all the time--maybe once a week--and poets who are trying to publish their first book can knock heads and labor to make each other ready.
We do really important work. The joint would always be jumping. Here is a space that will always be alive with sound, with rhythm, with creative impulses. What frustrates me is that all this work is being done, and it is being managed by two people who have massive other responsibilities, and I am not sure if this building will ever be.
Yes, I am saying that if someone gave me a million dollars right now, I would know exactly what to do with it. We need that kind of thing in this home state of mine. I promise you that.
So I stay busy. We stay busy. And frustrated. Why, because we know that this is a very good idea, and that this is something that works already, and yet, it is day to day to keep it going. I am frustrated because I know that there is a part of me that is never going to become the guy who convinces people to give him a million dollars. And I wish I was that guy. That is frustrating. So we stay busy.
Two beautiful poets came and went this weekend and another arrives next weekend, summer is here with the summer camps and our begging for space to have these gigs. We stay busy keeping the whole dream going. But we need that space, that place. Need? Maybe not need, but it is something we could really use. Yeah, maybe need is the right word.
Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of the country, citing in a recent interview his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music.” His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius (2007)...